May 15, 2016 –– Pentecost Sunday
Acts 2:1–11 / Romans 8:8–17 / John 14:15–16, 23b–26
A Personal Pentecost
Today is Pentecost Sunday. All around the world Christians look back to that day in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples and fulfilled the promise of Jesus. Each week we “confess” I believe in the Holy Spirit… So here is a question for us on this Pentecost Sunday: What are we expecting to happen today because we believe Jesus has given us his Spirit?
Think for a moment about the things Jesus said the Spirit would do. Jesus will no longer be with his disciples to give them guidance, so the Spirit is the Counselor. Jesus will no longer be with his disciples to teach them, so Jesus says the Spirit will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus himself, and the effect of the Spirit is that Jesus is made known and glorified in and through his followers.
Before Pentecost the Spirit had not yet come as promised. The disciples did not have the power to stand firm. When the soldiers came to the garden to arrest Jesus, the disciples had flushed like a covey of quail. Peter did follow “at a distance.” But in the courtyard, when he was accused by a servant girl, Peter cursed and denied that he knew Jesus at all. Then, after Jesus' death and resurrection, the disciples locked themselves in a room because they were afraid. Were these men really the ones Jesus said would do greater works than these in my Name?
Then it happened….. a noise like a strong driving wind…. what seemed to be tongues of fire resting on each of them…. speaking in different tongues. It so affected them that onlookers thought they were drunk. Now here is a big question: Do we believe the Holy Spirit wants to do the same thing in us? I do not mean a copying of all the particular phenomena and events. Rather, do you believe the Holy Spirit so wants to invade and control your life that unbelievers will think something is “wonderfully different” about you?
One brief reading of this Pentecost story is enough to show that these were changed men. The Spirit had come in power and it was evident. Where before things were not fitting together, now these so-called ignorant and unlearned men have the power to understand. They remember the Old Testament teachings and the words of Jesus, and see them come together in the death and resurrection so that their lives are totally transformed.
A holy boldness entered the lives of people who had previously been characterized by timidity and downright fear. Peter, who would not own up to a slave girl that he was a follower of Jesus, is now able to give a contextual teaching of who Jesus was in terms of Old Testament prophecy. And Peter is bold––even confrontational––as he proclaims the resurrection of Jesus while at the same time accusing his hearers of being the ones responsible for crucifying God's Messiah. This is the fulfillment of Jesus' promise, But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses…
So each week we confess, I believe in the Holy Spirit…. We would likely say we believe that the Spirit of God is powerful. It was the Spirit who brooded over the earth in creation. It was the Spirit who was at work raising Jesus from the dead. So why shouldn't the people in whom the Holy Spirit dwells understand the plan of salvation and have boldness declaring it? Or for that matter, why shouldn't people who have the Spirit living in them almost routinely be a channel of healing and other miraculous signs? The Spirit did that through Jesus, and––because of Pentecost––did the same through those early followers.
I assume most of us believe that, at least “conceptually.” We believe the Holy Spirit indwells Christian believers. But that should only heighten a crucial question for us: Where is the boldness among so many who say they are Christians to give public witness to their faith? Where is the miraculous in our fight against sin? How often is world looking at us in the Church and saying, “Wow, what is it with you?!” You see, what we believe about the Holy Spirit is not only found in our doctrines. It is fleshed out in our day to day lives. Life in the Spirit means we open ourselves to be invaded, as it were, by an outside entity––to allow someone else to come in and control our lives.
I think part of the problem is that much of our faith formation does not make it clear and does not emphasize that Christians are people who give their lives away. Maybe we try too hard to make things easy and inviting. Jesus did not do that. He told people to count the cost. Paul told the Romans that life is either controlled by the “flesh” (the temporal, that is passing away), or the Spirit (who is the very power and holiness and life of God). The “world, the flesh and the devil” tell us lies; we are tempted to be seduced by giving our priorities––our hearts––to things that have no lasting value. God wants to give us his Spirit––the very source of life and love.
There is one huge question for each of us on this Pentecost Sunday: Have you had a personal Pentecost? Have you come into a living relationship with Jesus through a conscious indwelling of the Holy Spirit? This is more than confessing right things about the Holy Spirit; it’s about his living presence and control in your life. Jesus wants to transform our lives.
God is doing some wonderful things in our congregation; the life of the Spirit is evident. We have much to be thankful for. But periodically we need to examine ourselves, and Pentecost is a great time for that. I freely confess to you that I regularly need to face whether the Spirit is free and powerful in my own life, or if practices and patterns have crept in that grieve and quench the life of the Spirit. On this Pentecost Sunday we are reminded that we are here to be changed so that our lives are becoming more and more like Jesus. Jesus calls us to an indwelling intimacy of his Spirit within each one of us. Jesus wants us to be his witnesses so other people will give their lives away to him. You see, Pentecost is not only something that happened in the history of the church almost 2000 years ago. Pentecost is what Jesus wants to do in us.